Unlike some of my co-workers, I love to cook. I scour the internet for new recipes each week and plan my grocery list accordingly.
However, some weeks I barely have time to breathe between work and my extracurricular activities.
Enter the Slow Cooker. This fine 3- to 6-quart piece of stoneware revolutionized my meal planning and gave me valuable time back.
Not once has it complained. It whispers sweet nothings and wafts savory aromas through my home, so much so, I’ve considered naming it after my grandmother.
I’ve even made a few of her recipes in it. The high yield, low effort and cost make it a prime household staple for fellow Penny Hoarders.
They are relatively inexpensive these days and can be found everywhere from Amazon to the shelves at your local supermarket.
5 Amazingly Easy and Cheap Crock-Pot Recipes
Your schedule and stomach will thank you after you try one of these quick and easy recipes.
Spaghetti and Meatballs Recipe
- 24-ounce jar of spaghetti sauce: $2.49
- 1 pound (16 ounces) of boxed spaghetti: 99 cents
- Two 12-count (16-ounce) bags of frozen meatballs thawed: $3.99 per bag, $7.98 total
- 1 ½ cups of water: Free
- 1 onion: 79 cents
Total cost: $12.25
Price per serving: $1.53
Put the meatballs, sauce and diced onion into the slow cooker followed by the water. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. Once it has cooked, stir the mixture and then break up the spaghetti noodles and add them to the pot. They shouldn’t cook for more than an hour with occasional stirring. It’s ready to serve once the spaghetti is cooked.
Another version of this recipe calls for thawing the meatballs in the fridge overnight in a container with the diced onion and sauce. Also, I loathe onion, so I’d personally skip that step all together.
Chicken Tacos Recipe
- 1 to 2 pounds of boneless and skinless chicken breast or tenderloin: $4.49 per pound, $6.74 total
- 16-ounce jar of salsa: $1.99
- Measurement pack of taco seasoning: 79 cents
- Bag of tortillas or hard taco shells: $1.89 for 12 corn tortillas, or 15 cents per tortilla
Total cost: $11.41
Price per serving: $1.43
Put the chicken in the slow cooker. Sprinkle the taco seasoning over it, and pour the salsa on top of it all. Cover and set it to cook for 6 to 8 hours on low, or 4 hours on high, depending on the ferocity of your pot.
Once it’s cooked, shred the chicken with a fork once and serve it in your shell of choice. I found hard taco shells to be cheaper. You can add other toppings like cheese, lettuce or sour cream if you have them on hand already.
Crockpot Chili Recipe
Who doesn’t love chili? It’s a slow cooker staple.
- 2 pounds of ground beef: $3.99 per pound, $7.98 total
- 1.25-ounce package of chili seasoning: 79 cents
- Two 14.5-ounce cans of diced tomatoes, undrained: $1.94
- Two 16-ounce cans of kidney beans, drained and rinsed: $1.78
- 15-ounce can of tomato sauce: $1.52
Total cost: $14.01
Price per serving: $1.75
Brown your ground beef in a skillet and then drain the fat. Place the beef followed by the remaining ingredients into the crockpot. Stir and cover. Cook for eight hours on low or four hours on high. Stir before serving. Consider channeling my mother and adding saltines or cheese on top of your bowl.
The best part of a chili recipe is that you can add or subtract depending on your taste. Some people add onions, peppers, black beans and corn. Personally, I skip onions or peppers because I don’t like them (gasp!). Yet I will eat others that have it in it because it’s chili after all. An even cheaper option is to buy dry beans and soak them overnight, but this requires more effort and time, which you might not have.
Chicken Noodle Soup Recipe
Chicken soup is one of those low-cost, high-yield recipes that warm your soul on a cold winter night or simply bring you comfort on sick days.
- 8 cups of water: free
- 1 to 2 pounds of cooked chicken, shredded: $4.49 per pound, $6.74 total
- 3 carrots, peeled and chopped: 89 cents per 10-carrot bag, or 27 cents
- 2 stalks of celery, chopped: $1.99 per bag of two bunches, or 22 cents
- 2 potatoes, peeled and cubed: 59 cents each, $1.18 for both
- 1 medium to large onion: 79 cents
- 1 garlic clove: $1.49 for two bulbs or 6 cents per clove
- 3 to 4 cups wide egg noodles: $1.99 for 16-ounce bag, or 99 cents for 4 cups
- Salt and pepper to taste: $2.19 for shaker set, or 6 cents
Total cost: $10.31
Price per serving: $1.29
Precook the chicken by your chosen method (oven, grill or stovetop). Shred after it is cooked. Put all the ingredients except the egg noodles in the slow cooker. Cover and cook for 6 to 8 hours on low, stirring occasionally. Once everything looks good, add the egg noodles, cover and cook for 10 more minutes until the noodles are tender. Stir and serve.
If you have a spice rack with bay leaves, parsley or thyme, you can add a sprinkle of each to the main batch as a flavorful option.
Macaroni and Cheese Recipe
There are many slow cooker versions of this classic. We chose this recipe.
- 2 ½ cups of milk: $1.49 per quart or 93 cents
- 12-ounce can evaporated milk: 97 cents
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt: 6 cents
- ½ teaspoon pepper: 3 cents
- 16-ounce box elbow macaroni: 99 cents
- ¼ cup of butter, cubed: $2.99 for 4 sticks or 37 cents
- 12-ounce bag sharp cheddar cheese: $3.99
- 4-ounce Velveeta cheese, cubed: $3.29 for 8-ounce block or $1.65
Total cost: $8.99
Price per serving: $1.50
Whisk together milk, evaporated milk, salt and pepper in a bowl. Then pour the uncooked macaroni into the slow cooker. Top it with the butter and cheeses. Add the milk mixture over the top and stir it all together. Cover and cook for 2 to 3 hours, stirring frequently.
You’ll want to keep an eye on this one, as the noodles may be done after 2 hours. Feel free to add more cheeses if you want to make it extra mac and cheese-a-licious.
Ways to Cut Food Costs
You can buy store brand or generic versions of all the ingredients if your local supermarket offers them.
We’re big fans of Asian grocery stores, Trader Joe’s and Aldi. You may even find organic options for the same price as non-organic items at these locations.
Consider other recipes that use similar ingredients so you can make use of your bags of carrots, celery and extend the life of any leftover items.
You can also buy items on sale or freeze any leftovers you may not get to eat that week.
If you have a bigger family, consider doubling the recipes or investing in a large-size slow cooker. The reverse applies if you’re cooking for one.
Will a Slow Cooker Burn Down My House?
Odds are unlikely; however, it is a valid concern, especially if you watched the current season of “This is Us” (spoiler alert) after the Super Bowl.
Admittedly, I wouldn’t use the slow cooker my mother used to cook with, as it’s too outdated and doesn’t have modern functionality like automatic turn-off.
Modern-day slow cookers have fail-safes and turn to a warm setting if they cook past the alloted time. They will automatically turn off after so long, so chances are rare.
However, the National Fire Protection Association reported slow cookers were responsible for an estimated 150 home structure fires per year from 2007 to 2011. The NFPA says they’re no different from a coffee pot or kettle that you might leave plugged in or on.
The official Crock-Pot FAQ states that its slow cooker is safe to leave unattended. Plus, it’s a scientific fact that the longer something cooks, the better it tastes. At least my tummy thinks so.
Once you dust off that bad boy and get to cooking, all your fears will melt away into a delicious plate of macaroni and cheese.
So add it to your birthday list, Amazon cart or registry, and start cooking. It’s not the most romantic gift, but it sure will save you money and delight your palate in the years to come.
Stephanie Bolling is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She owns two Crock-Pots.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.
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